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Roku’s app ditches the hardware, becomes a one-stop streaming shop

Roku might be best known for its popular lineup of streaming devices, but it’s the company’s channel-based streaming platform that underpins its long-term growth and revenue strategy. Today, we’re seeing the first big indication that Roku isn’t afraid of a world in which you don’t need one of its set-top boxes, or streaming sticks, to enjoy the platform’s content. If you’ve got the Roku app installed on either an iOS or an Android device, you can access the Roku Channel — no additional hardware required.

The Roku Channel is the company’s ad-supported, subscription-free movie, TV show, news, and sports offering. With more than 10,000 titles,  it’s a cross between Netflix and the stand-alone streaming apps offered by major broadcasters. It has a better selection of content than the broadcasters, and fewer ads per show or movie, but there’s no original content. Until today, if you wanted to watch the Roku Channel, you needed a Roku device, or one of the many Roku-powered TVs made by brands like Sharp, TCL, and HiSense. By adding the Roku Channel to the Roku app, the company has signaled a willingness to reduce its dependence on hardware sales as a way of adding users to its platform.

The move makes sense. In the not-so-distant future, all TVs will be smart TVs. They’ll either run their own OS, like LG’s WebOS, or they’ll run a third-party platform like Roku TV. Either way, the era of the streaming device add-on has an expiration date that is now visible on the horizon. In order to maintain both ad-supported and subscription-based revenues in the future, Roku has to find ways to get its platform of channels onto as many screens as possible. This move started last year, with its launch of the Roku Channel on the web, and its app-based presence on smartphones and tablets is simply the logical next step.

But Roku has even bigger plans for the Roku Channel. As part of today’s announcement, Roku says you’ll soon be able to add up to 25 subscription-based collections, from providers like  Showtime, Starz, and Epix, to the Roku Channel. This provides two key benefits: One monthly bill that covers all of your subscribed content, plus the ability to find all content — free or paid — through a unified search feature.

We don’t see Roku abandoning its hardware, or its thousands of independently run channels, any time soon. It’s clear now however, that it’s readying itself to follow in the giant footsteps of Amazon and Netflix, by creating the perfect home for its own original content in the future.

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Simon Cohen
Simon Cohen covers a variety of consumer technologies, but has a special interest in audio and video products, like spatial…
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